Why elderly people love touch screens?

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This question seems to stand in an opposition to a common opinion about an attitude of elderly people towards the possibilities offered by touch screens. For according to the universal judgment, the touch screen technology is impenetrable for most seniors. Even though, in internet one can find several elaborations leading to the conclusion that portable devices equipped with such screens are gray-hair-users-friendly and that the only problem concerned with engaging elderly people in their usage is connected with just getting started. Natural doubts arise whether those claims are based on the solid and trustworthy arguments. Maybe they reflect only a wishful thinking of the devices’ providers? To dissolve such precariousness we have decided to do our own research within a group of well motivated elderly persons. The selected group consisted of patients of one of the hospitals in Poland who were provided with a chance to exploit an application called MedStar designed for self monitoring of its users’ health. The outcomes of our investigations are summarized in what follows.

 

To touch, or not to touch? That is the question!
The test was carried out in April 2014 at the oncology department of the John Paul II Hospital in Cracow. Five patients took part in it (4 men and 1 woman) whose ages ranged from 60 to 70 years old. Only one of them had prior experience with the touch screen technology. The patients were supported by 2 physicians, employees of the department. Each of the patients was given a tablet based on Android having a 10-inches touch screen, which was equipped with the medical application MedStar providing such tools as pulse oximeter, sphygmomanometer (to monitor blood pressure), and possibilities of medical data storage, visualization and transfer. The tablets were connected by wi-fi with a server which was accessible also for the physicians, so that they had a constant access to the electronic medical data of each patient. The test consisted of three phases, namely: (i) 2-day long training of the patients at the hospital, (ii) 18-day long running of the tests at the patients’ homes in Cracow with a remote technical support by IT specialists from Poznań, and (iii) 2-day long collecting of patients’ opinions and drawing of conclusions.
The first – surprising – observation was that already at the hospital, shortly after the patients were introduced to the tablets, they started making first medical measurements. Despite some accidental technical problems (e.g., temporal lack of a connection with internet or shortage of a bluetooth connection between a tablet and sphygmomanometer), all patients unanimously evaluated that the application MedStar along with a tablet is:

  • easy to use;
  • helpful;
  • worth recommending;
  • making a good impression on a patient as well as on all other persons who had a chance to become familiar with it.

Furthermore, the patients expressed their satisfaction originating from the fact that they needed to visit the hospital less frequently than before obtaining the tablets, and that they could themselves make medical measurements on regular basis without engaging any medical stuff. Additionally, they enjoyed the constant awareness of their health status as well as the possibility to take (without any delay) necessary steps whenever any deviations from the norm occurred. Surprisingly, the difficulty of using the touch screen tablets was not reported by the patients at all – in fact, each of them claimed that they did not encounter any problems with opening, running or closing of the application. Basing on the results discussed above, we arrived at the conclusion that, after a short introductory course, elderly people do not have any problems with a utilization of the touch screen tablets. Moreover, they are able to take a full advantage of the possibilities offered by applications attributed to such devices and eagerly play with them.
It is noteworthy that also the physicians – initially rather skeptical about the whole project – were very positive about the outcomes of the tests. As main advantages of the MedStar application and its home usage on tablets they mentioned the abilities to:

  • trace changes dynamics of the patients’ health status;
  • study correlations between various medical measurements;
  • analyze present patient’s health status with respect to an average obtained over a longer period of time.

 

Why do touch screens make a difference?
Some people – and the silver-haired-persons are usually among them – are averse to changes. Thus, a natural question arises: what kind of a difference do tablets with touch screens make, so that the efforts related to their cognition are worth putting in? Among the main advantages of such devices one can list the following features:

  • they do not require prior knowledge and are very mistake forgiving (unlike a PC);
  • they have intuitive and easy-to-use interfaces;
  • they do not require prior experience (e.g., people not accustomed to a mouse have trouble coordinating the cursor, while using a touch screen is straightforward);
  • they are relatively small (weigh usually a little over a pound and are thinner than a magazine);
  • they are trendy (the number of their users is steadily increasing within each generation).

The devices with touch screens are particularly advantageous for elderly people. This fact becomes obvious when one realizes that:

  • tablets allow elderly people to be independent (they can do several things by themselves without involving anybody else);
  • tablets simplify communication (e-mail, audio or video), for instance between (grand)grandparents and (grand)grandchildren (in fact, the touch screen tablets are among only a few devices which can be used – without any external guidance or support – by persons whose ages are separated by 80 years or so);
  • using tablets might actually be a good exercise to improve mental, motoric and social skills that have deteriorated through age or various diseases;
  • tablets have barely any buttons (persons whose hands are atrophied or unable to type on a keyboard, hold a mouse or whose vision is no longer too good can still swipe their hands across the touch screen’s smooth glass);
  • tablets provide high-tech medical solutions which interact with patients allowing them to: (i) track treatment progress, key symptoms and side effects in real time outside of a hospital, (ii) create periodical reports and summaries to better understand their health progression, (iii) communicate with physicians and nurses to keep them up to date on the present health status, and (iv) reduce a number of hospital visits.

A general observation originating from the discussion above is that the tablets with touch screens can (and should) have a huge positive impact on elderly people, for such devices not only enable the seniors to do things which otherwise they would not be able to do, but also enhance substantially comfort of their lives. In consequence, we arrive at the conclusion that touch screens devices – taking a proper and fully deserved care of elderly people – focus on themselves several warm feelings of our grannies and grandpas.

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